Acupuncture does not improve IVF success! Surprisingly, it might actually be decreasing the success rate! (just don’t tell anyone)

Acupuncture does not improve IVF success! Surprisingly, it might actually be decreasing the success rate! (just don’t tell anyone)

A negative result! And this coming from acupuncturists – not something that happens very often. And what’s more, it’s published in a very prestigious journal, the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’ (JAMA), impact factor = 44. So, all I can say is, wow, did not see this one coming. Because usually they will spin the result into a positive using various techniques and various media platforms, and yet, here we have a very clear negative, even their (social) media platforms proudly proclaims; “Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates”.  Sure, they still tried their best to give it some sort of positive spin by stating:

“We examined the effects of a short course of acupuncture administered during an IVF cycle….. However, in clinical practice, acupuncture may include more sessions prior to an IVF cycle starting.”

“Stress is thought to play a role in infertility…..In our earlier research, acupuncture was shown to reduce the emotional stress and burden experienced by women during IVF treatment.”

Conflicts of interests

Now I have some history with this project. Back in 2012 when the NHMRC announced that they have approved $630 000 dollars for this study, it was promptly called “universities in a wacky waste of cash” in the media. Why? Because even back then acupuncture was known to be ineffective for IVF (and pretty much everything else) so why spend so much money which could have been spent on doing useful research, on something that is known not to work? Well, if you can mislead people into using acupuncture and all sorts of other ineffective remedies, then surely, you’ll be able to fool funding bodies as well. That is after all their job – to fool people, that is what promotional researchers do!

But I did notice a couple of years ago that the ‘academics’ (Prof Caroline Smith and Alan Bensoussan) from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) almost never declare their conflicts of interests. In other words, they received some sort of financial incentive (cash or in-kind) from acupuncture clinics which went undeclared, in clear violation of research ethics. They also failed to declare their conflicts of interests when they published their original trial design back in 2012 for this current acupuncture IVF study. After highlighting this issue with the journal, Trials, they eventually published a correction (erratum) in 2017 which simply state that the authors did not receive any financial compensation. Sure, she did not get any payments into her personal bank account but the NICM did receive substantial donations (evidence was send to the journal, but yes, what can I say, scientific journals nowadays, pfff). You can read more about it here, here and here.

Moving the goalposts!

But overall, publishing a negative result is so unlike the NICM, the winners of the Bent Spoon award for quackery in 2017.  Or is there more to this than meets the eye? Indeed, there is something fishy and it is strange that the reviewers of such a prestigious journal did not pick up on this. To explain the issue let’s have a look at the abstract (my underlining).

Importance:  Acupuncture is widely used by women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), although the evidence for efficacy is conflicting.

Objective:  To determine the efficacy of acupuncture compared with a sham acupuncture control performed during IVF on live births.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  A single-blind, parallel-group randomized clinical trial including 848 women undergoing a fresh IVF cycle was conducted at 16 IVF centers in Australia and New Zealand between June 29, 2011, and October 23, 2015, with 10 months of pregnancy follow-up until August 2016.

Interventions:  Women received either acupuncture (n = 424) or a sham acupuncture control (n = 424). The first treatment was administered between days 6 to 8 of follicle stimulation, and 2 treatments were administered prior to and following embryo transfer. The sham control used a noninvasive needle placed away from the true acupuncture points.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  The primary outcome was live birth, defined as the delivery of 1 or more living infants at greater than 20 weeks’ gestation or birth weight of at least 400 g.

Results:  Among 848 randomized women, 24 withdrew consent, 824 were included in the study (mean [SD] age, 35.4 [4.3] years); 371 [45.0%] had undergone more than 2 previous IVF cycles), 607 proceeded to an embryo transfer, and 809 (98.2%) had data available on live birth outcomes. Live births occurred among 74 of 405 women (18.3%) receiving acupuncture compared with 72 of 404 women (17.8%) receiving sham control (risk difference, 0.5% [95% CI, −4.9% to 5.8%]; relative risk, 1.02 [95% CI, 0.76 to 1.38]).

Conclusions and Relevance:  Among women undergoing IVF, administration of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture at the time of ovarian stimulation and embryo transfer resulted in no significant difference in live birth rates. These findings do not support the use of acupuncture to improve the rate of live births among women undergoing IVF.

So, clearly this study was conducted in order to see if acupuncture is effective and they found it to be ineffective – or at least that is what they want us to think. This negative result was also widely covered in newspapers around the world and yet almost all of them got it wrong. Here are a couple of examples (my underlining):

Having acupuncture to increase IVF chances might be waste of time, study suggests” ABC news (Aus)

Acupuncture no better than placebo for improving IVF success, trial finds” The Independent (UK)

Study finds no evidence acupuncture boosts fertility treatment” Chicago Tribune (US)

So, what did they all get wrong? There are a number of issues with these results, not with the results per se, but with the results that they did not publish. So, I decided to write an email to the authors (and the journal editor) asking them a number of questions (this email was also undersigned by Prof Edzard Ernst). This email should explain the issue at hand. Here it is:

Dear Prof Smith et al.,

Congratulations to you and your team on the publication ‘Effect of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture on live births among women undergoing IVF’ in JAMA recently. 

You are probably aware that the outcome of this project has been widely reported and is currently being discussed on numerous blog sites (here and here are two examples). During these discussions a number of questions were raised and we were hoping that you, or any of your co-authors, can provide answers or some sort of explanation for these questions.

1.Why did it take so long after the completion of this study to publish the results.

2.There is a consensus that a trial of this nature would be far more expensive than the NHMRC’s funding of $630 000 – was there a lot of in-kind support or other sources of funding? 

3.The live birth rate of around 18% reported in this study seems to be low when compared to the overall success rate of IVF. According to IVF Australia women between the age of 30.0-34.9 can expect a success rate of just above 35% while women in the age category 35.0-39.9 have a success rate of just above 25%. (On Repromed’s website, who co-authored this publication, similar success rates are reported).  In your study the median age was 35.4 and 35.5 in the 2 groups, and yet, a success rate of around 18% was reported. If true, does this mean that acupuncture reduce your chances on IVF success?

4.Both the ANZCTR registry and your publication in Trials where the trial design was published, included a study group 3. This group was meant to receive only IVF and it was supposed to serve as a baseline comparison. This is of course a very important aspect and yet the results were not reported nor was it mentioned or discussed – could you clarify what the reason for this omission is?

5.In various newspaper reports it is mentioned that a further two publications will flow from these results. A cost effectiveness study and a paper on the psycho-social benefits of acupuncture. But when something is shown to be ineffective (as in this study) it cannot possibly be cost effective and when no 3rd group, receiving only IVF, was included in this study, how can the psycho-social benefits be determined?   

We would appreciate any answers or comments. Thank you in advance.

Needles to say (pun intended), no response has been received – yet. Now if we carefully look at the design of this study you will notice that the original study had a different title and design. On the trial registry the title is;

“Acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture and standard care to improve live birth rates for women undergoing IVF: a randomised controlled trial”

In the journal Trials the title is;

”Acupuncture to improve live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a protocol for a randomized controlled trial”

So clearly this study had three groups including the important baseline comparison of women receiving only IVF – because this is the only way that you can determine if acupuncture actually improve pregnancy or live birth rates. This is what they wanted to determine, and they were in effect supposed to investigate two questions;

  1. Does acupuncture and/or sham acupuncture have a negative, neutral (no effect), or positive effect on IVF compared to IVF alone? – this is the important efficacy question.
  2. Does acupuncture work better/equivalent/worse than sham acupuncture? – this is a secondary question focusing on the existence of the non-existent chi (energy) that flows through non-existent meridians.

But now they have intentionally dropped the baseline comparison (group 3) and only compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture. Therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that there is no difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture (no big surprise because chi and meridians do not exist). Nothing can be said about the efficacy of acupuncture because they left this important information out and did not report on it, even though they misleadingly claim acupuncture to be ‘neutral’ (no effect).

And the newspapers?

Most journalists get their information from the university’s press release and this is what the NICM published “Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates”. It is completely wrong, it should have been something like; “Chi and Meridians again shown not to exist and acupuncture might even reduce your chances on IVF success” So, the journalists did not get it wrong per se, they just reported what they were told, which is strange, because any good journalist would surely check their facts before publishing. So, the question now is why did they do it? Why did they move the goal posts? Is it possible that this publication is simply a smokescreen to hide the fact that acupuncture might have a negative impact (nocebo effect) on IVF success rates?

They have omitted it intentionally!

This is now where it gets interesting. Back in 2006 a similar study with 228 participants was published by the same lead author from the NICM where a discussion was included about the reasons why acupuncture (28%) and sham acupuncture (18%) resulted in lower pregnancy rates as compared with the clinic’s baseline pregnancy rate of 30% (primary outcome was pregnancy and not live births).  Their current study with 848 participants published in 2018 had even lower pregnancy rates (live birth rates of around 18%) whereas the clinic’s baseline pregnancy rate/live birth rate has in all likelihood improved over the last 12 years (between 25-35%). So, just imagine a newspaper article stating that acupuncture might actually reduce your chances on IVF success. That would be a disaster for these people and the probable reason why they decided to keep quiet about it.

My opinion? The fact that infertility is a highly sensitive issue is simply ignored in order to protect acupuncture, and yes, they will spin this result into some sort of positive sometime in future. They have already started. Now, infertility can lead to broken relations, depression, and in extreme cases even suicide – so it is a very sensitive issue. If there is any suspicion that acupuncture might actually have a negative or even only a neutral influence on IVF then scientists should apply the ‘precautionary principle’  and advise people to stop using it. Promotional scientists on the other hand are well known to throw caution to the wind, and continue to try and convince vulnerable people to use their services or products.  This is completely unethical. These people could not care less about the well-being of the public and hence they just dropped this important information from their publication and did not even bother to discuss it, let alone, warn people about it.

Because of the size of this project they were probably forced to publish something and it took this long because they needed to come up with a way that will cause the least amount of damage to acupuncture. That it was published in JAMA is of concern and one can only question how this got pass the peer review process. Maybe the reviewers were so overwhelmed by the fact that these folks are publishing a negative result that they forgot to review the manuscript. (I will follow up on these issues with the editors)

It would however be interesting to see if the acupuncture clinics who donated money to the NICM, such as “The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic” will now put these ‘negative’, albeit misleading, results on their website. But how will they spin it? Acupuncture is their main, if not only, source of income with some of it flowing back to the NICM. (just read their rubbish declaration of interest in the JAMA article to see how they are getting away with it).

Will keep you posted on any further developments, I’m sure there is a lot more to come.

The remarkable medicinal properties of ………. a pregnant women’s head! Why Unis should stand up for science!

Wow, what a way to wake up this morning. I thought giving a child with behavioural problems homeopathic dog saliva was bad, but I think this will top it. When I scrolled through the news this morning I came across this remarkable article. Two men were sentenced after being caught trying to sell a women’s head as medicine.

Two men found guilty of beheading a pregnant woman and trying to sell her body parts for muti have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Former teacher Edward Raatji and his friend Stanley Mohlake sat in silence in a packed Limpopo High Court, as Judge Matsaro Semenya read out their sentences for the murder of Nthabiseng Mojela. Mojela was beheaded in July 2016 in Mapela village, near Mokopane. Raatji, 54, and Mohlake, 34, were arrested for Mojela’s murder, following a tip-off after they advertised to traditional leaders that they had a human head for sale.”

What can I do about it? Unfortunately, not much, but where there is a market for body parts as medicine, there is bound to be people that believes in its medicinal properties. And when people believe, then you are also bound to find people in a position of power that perpetuates the notion that ineffective substances have magical medicinal properties. So, all I can do is to again insist that Universities protect science and not allow pseudoscientists a foot in the door. I’ve written about the ‘Muti’ trade before and called it at the time a ‘’horror movie” where children are being ripped apart, preferably when they are still alive, because that makes the ‘medicine’ stronger. The fact that there is a trade in human body parts as medicine, or for that matter something such as Rhino horn, should be a wake-up call for scientists. And again, when scientists allow pseudoscientists a foot in the door (by keeping quiet about it) this sort of stuff is what you can expect – and it will only get worse. What am I on about? Well, the World Health Organisation (WHO). They should work towards taking the magic out of traditional medicine, educate people about real medicine by convincing governments to provide mass education regarding modern healthcare.

Unfortunately, some universities have allowed pseudoscientists a foot in the door. The result? In 2013 the WHO published its much anticipated “Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023”. This 76-page report, funded by China and the WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine in Hong Kong, unfortunately contains very little or no scientific information. No discussion on the trade and use of body parts or the pseudoscientific principles on which these “medicines” are based. No discussion of any science such as promoting education or improving accessibility and cost effectiveness of science based effective medicines. There is seemingly an inability to accept that specific traditional medicines are ineffective and should not be used.

The whole report revolves around the words “integrate” or “integrative”. This is what this WHO strategy calls for – how to better integrate traditional and complementary medicine, which is mainly based on magic, with mainstream conventional medicine, which is based on science. And this goes for homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, TCM – disproven complementary medicines! I can only speak for myself and then only about the influence of those universities where I worked. This is my way of standing up for science.

I believe that the WHO has been infiltrated by pseudoscientists who promotes disproven and unproven medicines to be integrated into mainstream healthcare. It is as if the Australian based National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) hosted at Western Sydney University has written this WHO report.  The agenda of the NICM? Accept millions of dollars from the CAM industry, lobby regulators including the WHO to give blanket support for all T&CMs, integrate pseudoscience with science and by doing this increase the sales figures of the CAM industry. So, did the NICM write or influence this WHO report?

Who do we find in the acknowledgements section? The Canadian naturopath, Michael Smith, an adjunct of the NICM (a tough week for Canada). The NICM would not be the NICM if they didn’t have a finger in the pie in compiling this WHO report and as stated on the NICM’s website “He was one of the primary technical drafters of the WHO Global Strategy for Traditional & Complementary Medicine (2014-2023) and continues to participate in WHO projects, working groups and consultations notably dealing with the regulation and policy setting related to traditional and complementary medicines.”

If you happen to work at WSU please start to ask questions (or for that matter if you work at any university hosting pseudoscientists). The NICM has been linked with illegally importing rhino horn as medicine, they’ve been linked with the tragic slapping therapy death of a 7yo child (what is better; being ripped apart and being used as medicine or being allowed to slowly and painfully die while your parents believe that what they are giving you is an effective treatment, while it’s clearly not). They are pseudoscientists, with global aspirations, excelling at spreading confusion regarding the effectiveness of traditional, complementary and alternative medicine. And they do it for money – they need to be stopped.

Dog saliva as medicine for…..’growling’? Homeopathy – the perfect script for a Black Comedy.

Dog saliva as medicine for…..’growling’? Homeopathy – the perfect script for a Black Comedy.

Let’s face it. Homeopaths have an excellent sense of humour and thumbs-up for their superb acting abilities. Because of their truly unique skills-set, some people have suggested that they are not really acting at all, but that they are visitors from a parallel universe. Be as it may, there is something amiss, because very few people from our universe would be able to keep a straight face while explaining to a patient that taking homeopathic dog shit will help against their ‘self-disgust’. Or that a remedy made from condoms will ease their feelings ‘of being restricted’ (cure claustrophobia). Recently there was even a Canadian homeopath, ‘Dr’ Anke Zimmermann, who prescribed dog saliva to a child that growled (behavioural problems). They are a funny bunch, and clearly, they have a thing for dogs, so I just don’t know, I have to go with the parallel universe theorem.

Alternative zoo
A typical zoo in the parallel universe of homeopaths

The list of their weird remedies just goes on and on – it is just out of this world. How about homeopathic remedies made from a Black hole (yes, homeopaths have visited), English sun (apparently the sun actually shines in their England), water diluted in, yes, water or…… here are some weeeeeird things they prescribe as ‘medicine’. This by itself should be enough for Hollywood to at least investigate the possibility of producing a comedy. It would however be best to cast real homeopaths (how about it ‘Dr’ Zimmerman?) because I don’t think any human being will be able to play the part. But then again, maybe Gwyneth Paltrow? or if the producers wants a documentary style comedy, maybe HRH Prince of Wales (but are we sure that they are from our universe?)

Fringe Series 2 Episode 1 - A new Day In An Old Town
Homeopaths also have a thing for cows. Here we witness the celebration after the first successful production of the homeopathic remedy ‘Excrementum vaccinum’. (English: cow dung)

What is homeopathy? Well, it is a hoax that’s been around for about 200 years. You dilute any substance you can think of into oblivion, including imaginary substances, and then you sell it as medicine – simple, (in)effective and highly profitable. Hundreds of years ago the healthcare system was pretty much non-existent and patients admitted to ‘hospital’ were more likely to die than patients who stayed at home. The reason for this? Healthcare was so terrible that your body had to fight the disease as well as the healthcare system, so it was far less risky to just stay at home.

Bloodletting, as a cure all, comes to mind (cause of death of the former American president George Washington) but also the eye watering tendency to drill holes in peoples’ skulls (trepanation) to cure whatever. As the theory goes the possibility exist that during one of these drilling exercises a patient, screaming in anguish, hit the exact note and volume that it ribbed a hole in the fabric that separates our universes. This is seen as day zero when homeopaths entered our universe and started with the practice of giving patients, zero, as medicine. This is also the likely reason why we can buy homeopathic remedies made from various musical notes (day zero is still celebrated in April each year during Homeopathy Awareness Week.)

Because homeopathic remedies contain zero, a sick person only had to fight the disease. Add to this the well-known placebo effect and it is understandable that people actually thought that it was effective. So, at the time the results were good – no, not really, one should rather say the results of ‘conventional healthcare’ was terrible, but nevertheless, this counterintuitive notion gave these visitors a foot in the door.

homeopathic bicycle
A homeopath illustrating how cycling works in their universe.

Now we are 200 years later. The disease model (disease caused by bacteria, viruses, mutations, ect.) antibiotics and other life-saving medicines and surgical interventions have been developed and is continuously being improved. Science has made huge progress and although not perfect, modern healthcare has brought us tremendous benefits whilst homeopathy is still zero – there has been absolutely no progress whatsoever.

But now for the black part of this comedy. The reason why homeopaths are here is unclear. Some suggest that the portal is only one-way and they simply cannot get back while others have proposed that they have a far more sinister agenda. They were send here to destroy our universe. If you think about it, what is the most powerful weapon out there? It’s not a nuke, it is confusion, and spreading confusion is the one thing that homeopaths excel at. For example: in our universe we have a thing called ‘dose-response curve’ – which in plain language means that a bigger quantity of a specific substance will have a bigger biological effect, up to a point where you overdose and die. But they advocate the exact opposite – the smaller the quantity the bigger the effect. It’s like saying the less money I have the richer I am.

cooking
Some suggest that homeopaths are here because cooking is apparently quite difficult in their universe

This implies that the more you dilute a substance the bigger the chance that you might overdose and die, something that has actually been tested when hundreds of people deliberately ‘overdosed’ in protest against politicians and regulators. No biological effect was observed and the call was made to ban these imposters and their ridiculous remedies. But homeopaths are on a mission and they have steadily infiltrated the political elite and the regulators since their arrival 200 years ago.

It is quite easy to see which politicians are from the other side. Politicians saying one thing and doing the exact opposite is in all likelihood from over there. Regulators claiming that they are here to protect the public against fake medicine and then allow these fake medicines to be sold unchecked, have also been infiltrated and are aiding homeopaths to achieve their mission objectives.

Boris
Politicians from the other side are sometimes quite easy to spot.

The results of their mission thus far are that more and more people are turning their backs on evidence-based healthcare (of great concern is the growing number of anti-vaxxers) even though many people got hurt and unfortunately many died – and this is the very black part of this comedy. Politicians and regulators seemingly does not give a hoot and finds it okay when adults die at the hands of homeopaths. But sometimes they do act, but only sometimes, and then only when children got hurt or died.

To test and see if they have also infiltrated our bastions of knowledge a.k.a. universities, I popped an email to the Department of Homeopathy, University of Johannesburg. In theory they should be studying why people from our universe continue to fall for homeopathy and they should advise against using it. So, I asked them for some advice about what to give my 7yo son before we enter a malaria region. The answer from UJ, who also runs a Homeopathic clinic for orphans in Soweto, was that I can buy a remedy at a local pharmacy that contains – nothing! Well, to be honest, I first had to translate because sometimes they still speak in their Alien language. So here are their exact ‘words’:

“Arnica montana D30 Arsenicum alb 6ch, 12ch Cinchona off 6ch, 12ch Eupatorium perf 6ch, 30ch Chininum ars 12ch, 30ch Ferrum met 12ch Malaria off 30ch Ledum palustre 30ch”

Some English in there but for the rest gibberish. Fully translated it simply means ‘nothing’. So clearly UJ has been infiltrated (they also have a chiropractic department).

Another university is Western Sydney University and specifically the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). I have long known that most people working at the NICM are from somewhere else – they are not from our world (because of their weirdness they’ve won the Bent Spoon award in 2017). But what was quite surprising was that they have actually taken over the whole management of the University. Highlighting the issues at the NICM was met with a ‘we could not care less’ attitude. They even promoted the NICM to become a fully-fledged ‘health institute’ from where they are continuing to spread confusion into the world. They have even managed to infiltrate the World Health Organisation who now recommends homeopathy to be integrated with conventional medicine.

So, there we have it. Homeopaths are everywhere and they have no plans to go back to where they came from. We are stuck with some very funny homeopaths and their hilarious ‘remedies’, but at the same time, also the tragedies that plays out in many homes across the globe. For me a very good script for a black comedy, but I am afraid that stopping this madness will be as difficult as finding a portal and sending these quacks back to their universe.

China Power and Influence! Part 2. TCM and the role of the Australian (prime) ministers.

China Power and Influence! Part 2. TCM and the role of the Australian (prime) ministers.

In part 1 I’ve shown that a number of key Australian ‘academics’ (Proff Alan Bensoussan, Charlie Xue etc.) made it extremely easy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to achieve their goal of internationalising TCM. Prof Bensoussan (an acupuncturist) has managed to achieve statutory regulation for TCM practitioners in 2012, elevating TCM to the same level as conventional healthcare. He used this ‘achievement’ to successfully lobby for TCM’s inclusion in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and China.. To lobby is one thing, but to do so successfully, you need receptive high level politicians in order to achieve your objectives. This article will highlight the involvement of various politicians, but also the regulators, and how Prof Bensoussan managed to get their support. (The ‘controversial’ book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ by Prof Clive Hamilton is also worth a read)

The ‘Four Corners’ investigation

An investigation by the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ exposed the CCP’s secret networks in Australia. They disclosed that certain Chinese billionaires with links to the CCP, donated substantial amounts of money to various political parties. This led to some politicians changing their views, quite notably Mr Sam Dastyari, against party line on Australian foreign policy – specifically regarding the South China sea melting pot (new recordings was revealed today). In light of these revelations a senator stepped down, or is about to step down, but it also elicited a scathing response from the former premier of NSW, Bob Carr. He tried to downplay this, in his view, ‘perceived’ Chinese influence and argued that this might instead be a golden opportunity for Australia. Problem is that; “Bob Carr is the director of the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney. ACRI was setup with a $1.8m donation from Xiangmo Huang who is one of the two Chinese donors who were the subject of the Four Corners expose Bob Carr seeks to downplay in this article.”

Bob Carr Huang Xiangmo
Mr Bob Carr (left) and Mr Huang Xiangmo (right) the funder of the Australia China Relations Institute hosted at the University of Technology Sydney.

Mr Xiangmo Huang and Mr Chau Chak Wing, named in the Four Corners investigation, have also been pumping millions of dollars into some Australian universities, quite notably Western Sydney University (WSU), University of Technology Sydney (UTS – Bob Carr heads the ACRI at UTS), and to some degree, RMIT university. It therefore stands to reason that the CCP also wants to exert an influence on the Australian academic and healthcare systems.  Part of this influence involves the internationalisation of an ancient pseudoscientific and mainly ineffective healthcare system, known as TCM. TCM is not an evidence-based healthcare system, but is nonetheless a very large and lucrative industry ($170 billion).

By using internationally accepted scientific methods will lead to a reduction in the total number of TCM treatments, currently estimated at 13 000, to only a handful. Hence, the big money is in the ‘magic’ (or mysticism) in which all 13 000 treatments remains effective. A public belief in this magic has therefore to be nurtured, which will lead to  widespread acceptance of TCM in Australia and expansion of the industry via Australia. Take the magic away (by applying science) and the whole industry will collapse – and this is not what the CCP nor Prof Bensoussan wants. Part of getting the job done is to target Australian politicians for support of TCM, and as such, why not start with the man with the top job? (for background information part 1 should be read and more information regarding TCM can be found here and here).

Mr Tony Abbott (former Prime Mister & Minister of Health)

Tony Abbott Huang Xiangmo
Mr Tony Abbott (left) and Mr Huang Xiangmo (right). The fist pump from the unknown man in the middle is for unknown reasons.

Quite recently Mr Tony Abbott attended “the launch of Chinese-born businessman Tao Li’s sheep ­placenta enriched skincare cream, Chantelle. On stage, Mr Abbott spoke of his longstanding support for the Chinese community and business in Australia, as he spruiked the merits of initiatives such as the China-Australia free-trade agreement…..” Clearly Mr Abbott has a thing for the strange and weird and does not seem to hold science, or consumer protection, in high esteem. But let’s have a closer look at Mr Abbott’s role in TCM.

In 2007, the then Minister of Health, Mr Abbott, was approached by a TCM practitioner proclaiming that he needs $4 million in order to provide the Australian public with the ‘correct’ information regarding TCM and complementary medicines in general. Mr Abbott ignored the fact that TCM is a dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare system, and that its practitioners will always promote all of it, because their livelihoods depend on it.

Unfortunately, Mr Abbott did not show him the door, no, he decided to place his trust in an acupuncturist (Prof Bensoussan) and handed him a $4 million cheque. This money was used as seed funding for the NICM. Regular readers will know that the NICM accepts money from homeopaths, acupuncturists, energy healers etc. and in exchange they use their university setting (Western Sydney University – WSU) to provide credibility and unbridled support for these thoroughly debunked complementary medicines (this is also the reason why the NICM won the Bent Spoon award in 2017.)

Alan Bensoussan Nongs clinic
The acupuncturist in question Prof Alan Bensoussan (second from the right) at the opening ceremony of another TCM clinic (Nong’s clinic) in Sydney. In the window some of the services on offer can be seen.

A tumultuous political period propelled Mr Abbott into the PM seat. It started when PM Kevin Rudd was stabbed in the back (2010) by his deputy, Julia Gillard, who became the first female PM. She was dethroned by Mr Rudd in 2013, who promptly lost the elections a couple of months later to Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott was in turn stabbed in the back by Mr Turnbull in 2015.  Five PM’s in five years, and although quite entertaining, an excellent opportunity for foreign powers to try and exert their influence during such a period of instability. So, while the politicians were grabbling to try and stay in power and solving artificial first world problems, the CCP steadily exerted its influence with Prof Bensoussan taking his chances when Mr Abbott became PM in 2013.

Mr Abbott appointed Mr Andrew Robb as minister of Trade in 2013, and tasked him with getting the FTA done and dusted. Having a PM who is clearly in favour of ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM, it should come as no surprise that Mr Robb accepted Prof Bensoussan’s word and included TCM in the FTA (more about Mr Robb a bit later on). After signing the FTA,  Mr Abbott also publicly defended part of the deal, which states that; ‘up to 1800 visas for Chinese service suppliers to enter Australia for up to 4 years, the visas will be for Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, Chinese chefs, and Chinese Language coaches.’  Mr Abbott also send a congratulatory note to WSU when the NICM opened a Chinese Medicine Centre in 2016, with their objective being; “….spreading Chinese medicine further to the world.”

Barney Glover FTA
f.l.t.r. Prof Xu Anlong, President Xi Jinping, PM Tony Abbott and Prof Barney Glover at the signing of the Free Trade Agreement.

Although all four PM’s had contact with Mr Huang Xiangmo, quite recently (June 2017) it came to light that Mr Abbott has been warned in 2015 by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about the possible influence that the CCP wants to exert; “A key political fundraiser for former prime minister Tony Abbott has maintained contact with Chinese Communist Party-aligned businessman Huang Xiangmo, despite warnings from ASIO to Mr Abbott about the billionaire donor. In 2015, Mr Abbott was briefed by ASIO chief Duncan Lewis about the agency’s concerns that Mr Huang’s close ties with the Chinese Communist Party might mean his donations could be used to advance Beijing’s interests.”

Pms with Huang Xiang mo
A collage showing the different PMs accompanied by Mr Huang Xiangmo

Internationalisation of TCM is of interest to the CCP and Prof Bensoussan, and I would suggest that the CCP was quite successful in achieving this objective in Australia! More information regarding Mr Huang Xiangmo and his involvement with TCM can be found in part 1.

But what about the current PM, Mr Malcolm Turnbull?

Well, what can I say. He promotes TCM by using it! Mr Turnbull publicly claimed that a TCM practitioner ‘helped’ him to lose weight. It becomes ridiculous when you look at the TCM treatment itself. It included Chinese herbal tea (price tag $5000) and, wait for it, fasting! I am not sure why, but I do feel the need to explain this phenomena for the uninformed (including some PMs). When you fast, you lose weight! The herbs and abdominal acupuncture has nothing to do with it!

This is an excellent example of how these pseudoscientists operate. They give good advice (balanced diet, exercise etc. which every GP will also give you) and then they claim that TCM is (partly) responsible for the observed effect. This is what they want you to think. And, of course, they want you to market their treatments by word of mouth, especially when you are the PM. It is a pity that an influential person such as Mr Turnbull can be hoodwinked this easily. After his endorsement of TCM, this particular practitioner is making a lot of money and is opening more TCM clinics in Australia where he treats anything from toothache to cancer. I fear that by providing his endorsement the PM has inadvertently signed the death warrant for people who suffer from serious medical conditions who might now decide, based on the PMs word, to give TCM a go instead of evidence-based treatments. (In 2017, this practitioner was found guilty of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” in an unrelated case.)

So, we have two PMs who is clearly pro-TCM. This, of course, makes life for the CCP and people such as Prof Bensoussan a lot easier.

The Minister of Trade, Mr Andrew Robb

As mentioned before, a key person in the FTA was the Trade minister, Mr Andrew Robb. He encouraged states and territories to sell and lease their assets, and also defended the lease of Port Darwin to the Chinese company, ‘Landbridge’. It did raise a number of eyebrows when Mr Robb resigned from politics shortly afterwards in favour of; “the $73,000-a-month retainer that former federal trade minister Andrew Robb has snaffled from the well-connected Chinese billionaire who bought the Port of Darwin.” Although within the rules, Mr Robb should definitely not expect a ‘Australian of the Year’ nomination anytime soon.  Mr Robb was however a primary target for Prof Bensoussan.

A document was prepared by Prof Bensoussan for Marcus Blackmore, the founder of the controversial supplement company Blackmores. This document contains a list of Australian politicians who they should lobby together in order to get political support for ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM. China is a very big export market for companies such as Blackmores, hence their collaboration with the NICM with their high profile Chinese connections (Blackmores  recently donated $10 million to the NICM to assist in ‘integrating’ ineffective treatments (incl. TCM) with effective treatments.) The two excerpts below make it clear that the NICM lobbied Austrade (Mr Robb) to include TCM in the FTA.

“Australia is currently working on a free trade agreement with China. On this basis Alan has held high level meetings with potential commercial partners in China.  China has pushed for the free flow of practitioners between Australia and China however, it is not likely they will get a free flow of products through. Alan has spoken to the VC and Hugh Funder from Austrade about regulations pertaining to a strong R&D platform under the free trade agreement. China has asked for a separate agreement to articulate the R&D platform. Andrew Robb is assisting NICM to pursue free trade with the support of the VC” (Sept 2014)

Andrew Robb signing FTA
Mr Andrew Robb (seated right) signing the free trade agreement

“The aim is to find a commercial partner or first choice commercial partner that will actively invest in NICM’s scaling up, through the development of a commercial platform for introducing Chinese medicine to western markets. Talks have been held with Austrade about the support they can provide in building a strong R&D platform with Chinese collaborators, including the possibility of progressing this as part of the Australia – China free trade agreement negotiations.” (Oct 2014)

Andreww Robb Huang Xiangmo
Mr Andrew Robb (middle) and Mr Huang Xiangmo (right)

It is no secret that China wants a free flow of TCM (practitioners and products) into Australia in order to expand their $170 billion TCM industry. Alan’s lobbying has paid off and Andrew Robb has written a letter to the Chinese Minister of Commerce which made Australia’s commitment to trade in TCM and complementary medicines very clear. A win-win for the bottom line of Chinese and Australian companies (such as Blackmores hence their partnership with the NICM), but a major step backwards for science, scientific education and research, and importantly, the health of the general public (I have recently emailed Mr Robb enquiring about TCM and if he was made aware by the NICM regarding the many dangers involved. A response was received from a secretary indicating that he retired from politics and that I should contact Austrade – a dead end I guess).

Promotion of TCM by other Australian politicians

Here is a media release by the then minister of education, Christopher Payne, heaping his praises on the NICM and the inclusion of TCM into the FTA, stating that; “Benefits to flow from the partnership include a new research-led Chinese medicine clinic in Sydney, better patient outcomes and the potential for Australia to tap into the $170 billion global traditional Chinese medicine market.” Here is a very interesting Hansard of the House of Representatives (Feb 2015 – pages 142-147) where a number of politicians – Mr Matheson (MacArthur), Mr Jones (Throsby), Mr Alexander (Bennelong), Mr Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith), Ms Scott (Lindsay), Mr Hayes (Fowler) – provides a very positive but one-sided view on the inclusion of TCM into the FTA.

It boils down to this; the NICM is excellent, TCM is the next big thing in healthcare, and we all stand to make a lot of money.  The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective, and therefore quite dangerous, does not seem to bother anyone, or at least, not a single politician understands the necessity to run this pass a couple of scientists first. And this can only mean one thing. All of these politicians have been spoon-fed with this misleading information, and now they pat each other on the back, and regurgitate this in front of a pro-TCM PM.

The Hansard makes it clear that the CCP will give (or has given) $20 million, via the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, to the NICM in order for them to establish a joined commercial TCM ‘hospital’ in Sydney (they call it a clinic but it will be much more like a hospital if they get their way). The CCP therefore already has a strong foothold in the Australian healthcare system from where further incursions will probably take place.  Clues as to what the CCP wants to achieve can be found in China itself; ‘In July a law came into effect that requires local governments to open TCM departments in all general hospitals, and to give “equal emphasis” to TCM and what China calls Western medicine.’ With this kind of political support and with Prof Bensoussan as the main driving force in Australia this definitely does not bode well!

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

To have political support is always good but you also need the regulators on your side. Because Prof Bensoussan knows that TCM is mainly ineffective, he also knows that there will be a couple of hurdles to overcome. One of these hurdles is the regulators, in Australia, the TGA. To overcome this hurdle for the CCP and the TCM industry, a MOU was signed between the NICM and one of the biggest TCM producers in China, ‘Tong Rang Ten’ (Oct 2015). The focus of this MOU is on how the NICM will assist the company to get their products through the registration process in Australia.

To achieve all of this, Prof Bensoussan has been exerting his extensive influence at the TGA where he served for more than 10 years on the TGA’s ‘Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines.’ He even acted as Chair on this committee for a number of years.  Companies such as Tong Rang Ten is of course elated by Prof Bensoussan’s assistance and his hard work in getting TCM into the FTA, and through the regulators, stating;

I think with the implementation of the [FTA] agreement, many medicines, especially some important herbs, good-quality herbs, and those written in the Chinese herbal dictionary, will be approved by the Australian medicine authorities. As a result, we will have an increasingly wider road, and open more and more branch stores in Australia.”

 

Five elements Tong Ren Tang
The Five element relationships in Chinese medicine according to Tong Ren Tang

Prof Bensoussan was instrumental in misleading the TGA into accepting a ‘long tradition of use’ as a measure of safety (effectiveness seemingly does not matter). The results speak for itself with the TGA now excepting around 140 fake or pseudoscientific TCM ‘indications’ such as; “Harmonise middle burner (Spleen and Stomach)”, “Unblock/open/relax meridians”, “Balance Yin and Yang”.  If these draft indications are approved, you will be able to go to a pharmacy if you feel that your ‘meridians’ are blocked.

TCM is based on pseudoscientific principles, where no accurate diagnosis can be performed coupled with ineffective/dangerous treatments. It is such a pity that the leaders in society cannot come the this really simple conclusion and that the money aspect seems to blind them from the very obvious.

Final remarks

Most of the politicians named in this article has had links to Mr Huang Xiangmo, who in turn has links with the CCP. He has been pumping millions into Australian universities where Prof Bensoussan again acted as the man in the middle. It should be clear that this money has been influential regarding the promotion and growing acceptance of TCM in Australia. But what is fascinating is that the media seems to be reluctant to delve into this issue. I am no Trump supporter but one of the reasons might be that the media is not always as independent as claimed – they also have vested interests. For example. The ABC accepted an unknown amount of money from the controversial supplement company Swisse and in return Swisse gets; “exclusive advertising rights to reach 190 million people across Asia who can access online and television channels broadcast by Australia Plus.” Trade in Australian complementary medicines with China is also part of the FTA.

But I have to extend an olive branch to the politicians named in this article. No person can have expert knowledge of everything from medicine to global warning. You need expert advisors to fill the gap. The heart of the problem is when universities such as WSU hire pseudoscientists such as Prof Bensoussan. He now becomes an expert advisor and provide misleading information to just about everyone, including politicians. Sure, these politicians also have the responsibility to double check the information, but at the end of the day the blame should be on WSU for allowing this to happen (I have been warning them about this for almost 4 years now).

There is still some crucial information that is missing. What did the NICM tell all of these politicians in order for them to happily sign off on TCM? Mr Robb unfortunately does not want to reveal anything, but I do have some interesting information that was send to the former NSW minister of health, Jillian Skinner. In Part 3 I will describe this information which was, in all likelihood, also send to the politicians mentioned in this current article.

It is in effect a ‘tale of two letters’ with one letter warning the minister about the dangers of TCM (and the NICM’s modus operandi) whilst the second letter, written by the NICM, promoting TCM. No prizes for guessing which letter was the most convincing. In 2016 she was on her way to China accompanied by Prof Bensoussan and Dr Ven Tan (TCM practitioner and founder of Tasly Healthpac where the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death occurred) to help Prof Bensoussan in lobbying for funding of his, and the CCP’s, big plans for TCM in Australia.

China Power and Influence! Part 1: TCM and the Aussie Academics who sold their souls!

China Power and Influence! Part 1: TCM and the Aussie Academics who sold their souls!

Is the Chinese Communist party currently exerting an influence on the Australian healthcare system? If so, how did they manage to get a foot in the door? Let’s have a look!

recent investigation by the award winning investigative journalism program, ‘Four Corners’, revealed that Chinese billionaires, with links to the Chinese communist party, have made substantial donations to various Australian politicians. Donations usually come with strings attached, and hence, there is some anxiety that this could have an impact on the Australian autonomy and international relations with historic partners (similar to Russia’s meddling with the US elections). The program also featured China’s influence at various academic campuses across Australia.

This prompted me to conduct my own investigation focusing on China’s influence, via these Chinese billionaires, on the Australian healthcare system. It is well known that China wants to internationalise their ancient, ineffective and dangerous traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Australia could have, for example, decided to play a leading role and aid China in modernising their healthcare system in exchange for improved free trade arrangements – or anything that could have been mutually beneficial.  Unfortunately, a couple of Australian academics decided otherwise and made it extremely easy for China to obtain a strong foothold, with their TCM, in the Australian healthcare system.

This article will detail specifics regarding how these academics managed to get the job done, whilst a second article will describe how specific Australian politicians made all of this a walk in the park for China (all supporting documentation is available on request).  Please skip the next section if you understand TCM, but for those who don’t, below is some background information.

What is TCM and why is it so dangerous?

Imagine a healthcare system where no disease can be diagnosed and where the treatments on offer are mainly ineffective, while some are even outright dangerous. This is TCM in a nutshell; misdiagnosis by default and ineffective/dangerous treatments.  It is no wonder that many scientists are extremely concerned about the promotion and legitimisation, especially via universities, of TCM in Australia and around the world. A recent article in the Economist sums it up well; “State-sponsored quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos”

To understand the issue at hand, here is one example;

The TCM nature of rhino horn is “salty, sour and cold” and hence its actions are to “clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying.” Rhino horn is therefore a treatment for “high fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.” (rhino horn is in fact being promoted as medicine at Western Sydney University, but I believe for dementia. One of their collaborators was even sent to prison for importing rhino horn into Australia).

Some of these above mentioned conditions can be life-threatening, if left untreated. Because everybody knows that rhino horn is not an effective medicine for anything, prescribing and using it as a medicine, is equivalent to providing no treatment for these conditions. And this is indeed why TCM is dangerous for people, not even to speak about the needless slaughter of rhinos.

saddest-rhino-photo-yet-oscap-645x
It took this rhino calf a number of days to find its mother. Unfortunately the poachers got hold of her first -and all of this in order to fuel the insatiable and growing TCM market.

In TCM, disease is seen as an imbalance of a non-existent life-force (Chi) that flows through non-existent meridians, and in this pre-scientific world, bacteria, viruses, etc. do not exist.  By slapping yourself, or inserting needles (acupuncture), or taking herbs, or animal matter, your Chi will be ‘restored’ and you will be ‘cured’ of whatever ailment you might suffer from. Because TCM is a believe-based system, every treatment (and there are thousands) is believed to be effective for its intended purpose. This becomes very dangerous when this believe is so strong that they will advise patients to stop their conventional treatments, and rely solely on TCM. That this danger is real, was recently illustrated by the tragic death of a 6yo boy suffering from type-1 diabetes.

The fact that some herbs (very few) do contain beneficial compounds is, in effect, negated by the fact that TCM practitioners cannot correctly diagnose any medical condition. To try and ‘solve’ this problem, they will therefore prescribe a combination of up to 20 different herbs, because by doing this, it improves their chances of getting lucky! Most TCM proponents are fully aware of these problems, and therefore their current approach is to ‘integrate’ all of TCM with conventional diagnostics and treatments. They do this in order to continue to make money but also to promote TCM as ‘effective’ by piggy-backing on the successes of evidence-based modern healthcare.

So, yes, it is all about money with China trying to expand its $170 billion TCM industry by legitimising it in other countries. In Australia it turned out to be a very easy task, just ask the four blokes in the photo below. They have been warned, repeatedly, about the dangers of TCM, but apparently the big motivator, money, speaks louder than words.  So, this is where the Australian academics comes into play (more info regarding TCM can be found here and here).

Alan Benoussan Barney glover
FLTR: Proff. Alan Bensoussan (WSU), Barney Glover (WSU), Xu Anlong (BUCM) and Peter Shergold (WSU). Lobbying for political support of TCM at parliament house, Canberra (their trip paid for by the Aus public)

The Australian academics

One of the key players in Australia is Prof Alan Bensoussan, Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Western Sydney University (WSU). He completed a degree in physics and then, for some unknown reason, decided to continue with TCM. He studied at the Nanjing University of TCM in 1985/86, and this is where he was ‘converted’ or ‘recruited’ by the Chinese communist party.  And because Alan, like most people, cannot admit to have made a mistake, decided to continue down this path of pseudoscience. Once you are trapped, you are in it for life. And not only that, he became one of the biggest lobbyists of TCM in Australia. This is, of course, one way of ignoring your mistakes – you stubbornly continue to tell yourself, and everybody else, that you are right, even in the face of the most compelling scientific evidence! For Alan, TCM is an effective and safe healthcare system! Unfortunately, after 30 years of trying, he is not able to show that science was wrong about TCM, and hence, he still does not have anything to show for it (without cheating and misleading, that is).

But whatever happened, he became one of the biggest drivers of TCM in Australia. Since his return from China he has worked tirelessly to legitimise TCM with his main approach being; that the safety of patients will be assured by regulating TCM, and, that TCM should be ‘integrated’ within conventional healthcare. The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective and by regulating fake medicine, it can only lead to well-regulated fake medicine, didn’t bother him –  it simply doesn’t fit his delusion. Intense lobbying for many years resulted in TCM becoming a registered healthcare profession in Victoria in 2000, and Australia wide in 2012. Being ‘registered’, in this case, simply means that you must have a ‘real’ degree in fake medicine before you can practice fake medicine – how this will assure the safety of patients is beyond me! This was, however, a crucial turning point. Registering TCM as a ‘healthcare profession’ gave it an Australian government stamp of approval, and after this victory for TCM, everything went into top gear. Alan received a prestigious award for his intense lobbying in 2013 in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing China. This award was also celebrated at WSU and was attended by Eric Roozendaal, CEO of the Yuhu group (more about the YuHu group a bit later on).

Other prominent Australian academics are Prof Charlie Xue from RMIT university who runs an accredited (again a government stamp of approval!) course in TCM and chairs the ‘Chinese Medicine Board of Australia’. He is therefore in charge of registering TCM practitioners, and he has also received millions from China to promote TCM in Australia (see under current grants). The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) also provides accredited courses in TCM and has accepted millions in gifts from Chinese businessmen – donations and gifts always comes with strings attached.

The Chinese businessman

The Yuhu group is owned by Chinese billionaire, Huang Xiangmo, who featured prominently in the ABC’s Four Corners investigation. Huang Xiangmo is the president of the ‘Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China’ – an organisation considered to be the vanguard of lobbying for the Chinese communist party in Australia. It turns out that they do not only influence Australian politics, but also the healthcare system. The Yuhu group has ‘committed’ a $10 million donation to Alan Bensoussan for the internationalisation of TCM in Australia. This large donation was eventually withdrawn by Yuhu, due to WSU’s inability to get the necessary paper work done in time (maybe too many bureaucrats working at WSU?). Huang Xiangmo did eventually donate $3.5 million, to establish the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at WSU. Alan is named as a key researcher which demonstrates that TCM is considered to be part of Chinese ‘arts and culture’ and not an evidence-based healthcare system.

Huang Xiangmo
Mr Huang Xiangmo, seated, before signing the $3.5 million agreement. Prof Glover, left, is looking on in greedy anticipation, mumbling ‘sign it, sign it, sign it….’

In the NICMs latest newsletter (under ‘Message from Director’) they thank their generous sponsors, which includes Josephine and Gary Lam. Unfortunately the value of these donations are not publicly available, but, Josephine Lam has donated substantial amounts of money to WSU/NICM before. She is also currently acting as a ‘specialist advisor‘ to the Vice Chancellor, Barney Glover (he has also accompanied Alan to China to lobby for support of their Australian TCM facilities). The Lam’s are part of the ‘Australian China Economic, Trade and Culture Association’, with Gary Lam being the Chairman and Josephine a Honorary Advisor.  Huang Xiangmo, of the Yuhu group is also a patron of this organisation.

Dr Ven Tan, who is the ‘Standing Deputy Chairman’ in this organisation, and the founder of ‘Tasly Healthpac’ is an important role player, claiming that; ‘Through his own practice he has come to realize the limitation of conventional Western medicine and to worship the merit of Traditional Chinese Medicine’. The photo below depicts the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Chinese and Australian governments ‘aimed at promoting TCM in Australia through a collaborative initiative’. (Alan Bensoussan is on the far left and Ven Tan third from the left.) So, again we have a Chinese ‘cultural’ organisation that wants to promote TCM in Australia.

Ven Tan Photo

Another separate MoU was signed between Tasly and the NICM (Alan Bensoussan is the director of the NICM) in 2011, which states that the NICM will provide “assistance in the development of an Integrative Care Model: to assist the Tasly Healthpac Centre of Excellence in Integrative medicine so that its structure aims to integrate TCM and western medical diagnostics and treatments in an integrated, patient centred way.” Some might now recall that the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death of a 6yo boy recently occurred at Tasly Healthpac.  This illustrates what happens when your objective is to ‘integrate’ fake treatments with evidence-based treatments.

The NICM’s gifts register indicates that a huge amount of effort goes into cosying up to Chinese politicians, businessmen and (TCM) academics. There are documents demonstrating that they are actively targeting and engaging with specific Chinese businessman (Huang Xiangmo, Chau Chak Wing, etc) known to have links with the Chinese communist party. WSU even planned to provide scholarships to the children of Chinese consular staff members. The response from the Chinese consulate was, of course, a very big thank you to Alan Bensoussan and Barney Glover, for their hard work in legitimising TCM in Australia. To think that all their visits to China, the hosting of Chinese delegates, the huge amount of time it takes to lobby all of these role-players (in China and Australia), even the gifts are partially paid for by the Australian public. So, what do the Australian public get in return for their investment? The promotion and integration of a dangerous fake healthcare system. And this brings me to the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.

Barney Glover FTA
Prof Barney Glover, right, after signing the agreement. Obviously smiling, because this means a lot of money.

Australia-China Free Trade Agreement

Alan has managed to get TCM included at the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and China (called a ‘tragedy‘ by an eminent Australian scientist – I tend to agree!). This inclusion will allow WSU and the Chinese government managed ‘Beijing University of Chinese Medicine’ (BUCM), to be used as vehicles for the communist party’s agenda to exert its influence via TCM on the Australian healthcare system. And all of this facilitated by Alan for which he is handsomely rewarded by the Chinese government. The inclusion of TCM in the FTA has paid off, and has resulted in a TCM hospital that is currently being established in Westmead, Sydney – opening in 2018. The BUCM will operate this ‘integrative’ TCM facility and it will be based on a similar 80-bed hospital which the BUCM is already operating in Germany. According to documents, this facility will be commercial (run by the BUCM) and the NICM will co-occupy this space to further their (or the Chinese communists party’s) agenda regarding the continued legitimisation and internationalisation of TCM.

Conclusions

In short; Alan Bensoussan, Barney Glover, and others, are colluding with the Chinese communist party, and as such, is making it extremely easy for them to exert their (not so soft) power in Australia. TCM is part and parcel of the international influence that China wants to exert. It is unfortunate that China, who has made rapid advances in science and technology, decided to stick with TCM and not on collaboration with Australia regarding modern evidence-based healthcare. It is even more unfortunate that these Australian universities decided to sell their souls for the sake of Chinese money. The $170 billion TCM industry therefore seems to be the main motivator for both WSU and the Chinese government and not improved health outcomes for Australians. The saying ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’ comes to mind, and I have to ask; where will it all end?

It is interesting to note that serious medical conditions e.g. cancer, are being targeted by the NICM in order to legitimise ineffective TCM. In the NICMs own words “… the press/media would be reluctant to take a negative line on initiatives that are targeted at oncology…” This sentence says it all.

My next article will provide more details on the FTA and the Australian politicians (especially Andrew Robb and Jullian Skinner) who were successfully lobbied by Alan, and who made all of this possible. All this information has been sent to WSU, about 2 months ago, but as usual, there seems to be no interest in the adverse impact that their actions will have on science, on education and on the health of the public (and the poor rhinos, of course).

(The ‘controversial’ book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ by Prof Clive Hamilton is also worth a read)

The Hogwarts School of Magic is actually in Australia! They even teach you how to ‘fly’ a broom (they really do).

The Hogwarts School of Magic is actually in Australia! They even teach you how to ‘fly’ a broom (they really do).

And we thought that the ‘Hogwarts School of Magic’ only existed on the big screen. But, this type of school is actually real. There are quite a number of them currently operating in Australia, where bright-eyed, impressionable teenagers are taught how to manipulate energy fields in order to banish ‘evil spirits’ (or disease), and how to elevate out of their despondent earthly existence into an enchanted state of eternal health and happiness –  like flying for the first time on a broomstick (or smoking a joint). It will therefore come as no surprise, that the game of Quidditch, from the Harry Potter movies, is indeed being played at some of these modern schools of magic. The Tri-wizard cup was even won by Western Sydney University in 2013.  A real-life fantasy world.

Quidditch game

(Quiddich players ‘flying’ in attack formation on their Nimbus 2000 broomsticks)

But there is a problem!

To run around on a field with a broomstick between your legs is, I guess, okay, and not strange at all. It is good exercise, but you are not suddenly going to take off (at least not without a joint), because ‘strangely’ enough this only happens in the movies (or if you are completely stoned). So, for the rest of it, none of it is real – it is all a hoax. And this is now problematic, because all parents would agree that we want the best education for our children. But this is also where we tend to stop our involvement and we do not always ask the important question of; what is actually being taught at these schools? There are many reasons for this, one of them being that we tend to trust that government will protect us from fraudsters. So, when these schools are government funded and regulated, and especially, when they provide them with a stamp of approval via various accreditation schemes, this is usually enough to put our minds at ease – we  trust the system!

Unfortunately, some of these schools provide government accredited courses in magic. For example; children are being taught to manipulate ‘energy’, yes, without a wand (although I am not always so sure), but with the use of needles, crystals and various herbs such as the screaming mandrake (oh no wait, that was in the movie).

 

Specific examples of these courses include; Bachelor in Chinese medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy at RMIT University, Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy – includes homeopathy) at Endeavour College, Bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine at Western Sydney University and Bachelor of Health Science in traditional Chinese medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. The Southern School of Natural Therapies explains that their accredited course in Chinese Medicine; “is an ancient, holistic form of medicine that connects the mind, body, spirit. Chinese medicine believes that the body is made up of Qi – energy which permeates the whole body and flows through our meridians. Chinese medicine aims to stimulate the meridians, producing effects on different organs and systems within the body to restore balance and harmony” – this is pure magic!

This is what our kids are being taught at these schools, and unfortunately, this is pure fantasy because this ‘energy’, which is at the foundation of all of these pseudoscientific healthcare systems, simply do not exist. But, this ‘energy’ do indeed attract large numbers of students, because all of us are fascinated by magic. Regrettably, those students who actually believe in the magic show, tends to pay a significant amount of money to learn ‘magic’, and once they realise that it’s an elaborate government supported hoax, many simply tend to continue practicing magic. Because, by now, they have incurred a lot of debt, they have lost a lot of time, and they don’t want to be branded a drop-out or loser (sure, there will also be true believers amongst them). Hence, the problem of modern day ‘medical magicians’ will continue to be with us and might even surge, if the government continue to legitimise it via their various accreditation schemes.

And this brings me to accreditation, which is arguably a big part of the problem. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently invited submissions for their “Independent Review of Accreditation Systems within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions”. The ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ (FSM) organisation did submit a detailed report highlighting their many concerns when accreditation is given to these schools of magic. This report was unfortunately deemed ‘out of scope’ by the COAG Health Council which implies that they are quite happy to continue to mislead students and their parents (and this can destroy families), as well as the patients who are on the receiving end of these completely ineffective magical treatments. Many patients do indeed get hurt and some even die, as was tragically illustrated by a practitioner whose magical ‘Slapping Therapy’ did not cure a 6yo boy from his type-1 diabetes.

Below you will find the Executive Summary of FSMs submission (with permission), and here you can find the full submission.  But the question remains; why do the government continue to bestow undue credibility and continue to legitimise ‘medical magic’ by providing accreditation to these courses in Australia?

“Executive Summary

Accreditation is antecedent to, and inextricably bound together with, practitioner registration. This submission raises concerns about registered alternative medicine (AltMed) practitioners, accusing the present accreditation system of failing to protect the public through its legitimising poor quality, belief-based, rather than evidence-based, education and on-going training of chiropractors, osteopaths and Chinese medicine/acupuncturists.

FSM is aware that some higher education institutes and continuing professional development courses give credibility to pseudoscience. Examples of pseudoscience include chiropractic (subluxation theory, Kinesiology, Retained Neonatal Reflex and Webster Technique, osteopathy (Osteopathy of the Cranial Field and Visceral Manipulation) and Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and the teaching of “Qi”, energy blockages that cause disease, as a fact).

FSM also remains concerned with the accreditation process supervised by AHPRA and its Boards.

FSM alleges that:

A. the training of registered AltMed practitioners:

  1. is of low quality;
  2. is based on pseudo-scientific concepts that reject germ theory as the cause of disease;
  3. teach invalid diagnostic technique;
  4. includes potentially dangerous interventions, continued in the ongoing training of practitioners;
  5. wastes considerable public funding allocated to universities which teach these unscientific courses; and
  6. compromises our universities’ reputation within Australia and internationally.

B. thousands of false and misleading claims on AltMed websites breach the National Law. This report demonstrates that registered AltMed practitioners:

  1. are poorly trained;
  2. are not competent to treat patients;
  3. delay correct diagnosis and evidence-based therapies thereby allowing progression of disorders;
  4. may cause harm;
  5. waste millions of health dollars;
  6. undermine the efforts of evidence-based practitioners in their communities;
  7. do not, in respect of exaggerated claims and advertising, behave in an ethical manner;
  8. create considerable confusion for patients with chronic ailments; and
  9. focus their ongoing training on building their practices rather than on the needs of patients.
  10. This report also raises concerns about pseudoscience-based courses, that may attract VET-help fees, such as reflexology, homeopathy, aromatherapy and reiki, that are advertised on Government websites.

C. Government websites are providing undeserved credibility for discredited AltMed.

Underserved credibility is given to discredited AltMed courses including Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Reiki that may attract VET-help fees and are advertised on Government training websites.

Using acupuncture as an example, along with valid research findings, informed opinions and advice from medical experts, this report investigates the teachings in one high-profile accredited course and the impact and costs of this intervention on health care. While this report focuses on acupuncture, the same concerns can be extrapolated to other domains of pseudo-science, which is in both accredited university and continuing professional development courses. It also recommends that the scope of practice of AltMed practitioners should be limited to what they can advertise, to further protect patients from invalid diagnosis and belief-based interventions.

While ALL unregistered AltMed practitioners are NOT practicing any form of evidence-based medicine, (reflexology, iridology etc), there are thousands of registered practitioners, bound by the National Law to practice care that is evidence-based, who are practicing pseudoscience. The scope of the recent NHMRC review of natural therapies EXCLUDED interventions offered by registered practitioners on the basis that consumer protection was available through the AHPRA scheme.

This report highlights the millions of health dollars wasted by the Government funding of AltMed teachings and practices. Nearly $220 million was spent on acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy through Medicare from July 2011 to June 2016.

AltMed practitioners, who reject evidence-based medicine and over-service patient with placebo interventions are not the ‘right people’ to address patient needs, now and in the future.”

‘Celebrity’ endorsements! The NICM seeking Royal endorsement using their ‘faked’ ERA ranking!

‘Celebrity’ endorsements! The NICM seeking Royal endorsement using their ‘faked’ ERA ranking!

Nooo waaay!! If Gwyneth Paltrow can promote that, then surely, I can promote some of my very own quackery! Don’t call me a snake oil salesman, look at Gwyneth, she is selling ‘psychic vampire repellent’ and ‘jade eggs’ – my quackery is not nearly as crackpot as that, and, she gets away with it!

And off they go, endorsing and promoting everything from water as effective medicine, to jade eggs to be; “used by women…. [to be inserted, you know where] ….to help connect the second chakra (the heart) and yoni for optimal self-love and well-being.” And, yes, psychic vampire repellent to ‘banish bad vibes and shield you from the people who may be causing them.’ Celebrity endorsements, using social status to (un)intentionally mislead the public, and in some cases, enrich themselves even further!

Pure quackery, but whatever these Demi-gods endorse, usually result in a large number of worshippers to blindly follow. Their faith is so blind, that they will even give their own children water as medicine. Unfortunately, but also predictably, some children die as a result, but apparently, this is a small price to pay in order to appease these Demi-gods. But luckily, there are a number of brave warriors (or scientists) who are standing up for science, understands social responsibility, and openly question the validity and motives of these apostles of quackery.  And you need to be brave, because this can backfire depending on the unique powers and influence of the Demi-god in question. As was illustrated by Prof Edzard Ernst, after he publicly, but fairly, called a Demi-god a snake oil salesman.

As for Gwyneth Paltrow, she is merrily continuing to promote the most bizarre healthcare rubbish via her company Goop. Her beauty, apparently,  has a hypnotic effect on her followers because they just continue to buy whatever she conjures up. At least, she won this year’s inaugural Rusty Razor award for “the ‘best’ promoter of the ‘worst pseudoscience of the year.” Well done, Gwyneth, although this will probably only strengthen the resolve of her followers.

In the picture above there is also a banner that seemingly does not fit the ‘bigger’ picture; “Excellence in Research for Australia” (ERA). The reason for this is because celebrity endorsement of quackery tends to attract the attention of a very ‘special’ kind of person – the promotional ‘scientist’. It is, in fact, a vicious circle. Quackery generates a lot of money, which partly flows into the coffers of ‘willing’ universities who provides further ‘scientific’ endorsement of quackery (much appreciated by the celebrities), and this, in turn, leads to an increase in sales – and round we go.  These promotional scientists actively seek endorsements from celebrities or royalty such as Prince Charles, and they pursue any opportunity to make this reality – an excellent way of spending public money! Endorsements gives them, and the quackery that they peddle, (undue) credibility and legitimacy, but at least it leads to increased sales – and that is what it is all about.

And this brings me to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Australia, who actively sought the endorsement of the Prince of Wales to become their patron. Here is an excerpt of the NICMs attempts, written by Prof Alan Bensoussan;

“I understand that HRH The Prince of Wales is a keen advocate of integrated healthcare and of proven complementary treatments and therapies.  His goals align substantially with those of NICM, which seeks to build an evidence-based complementary medicines sector in Australia and more broadly. Subject to the approval of HRH The Prince of Wales, I envisage that the role of patron would be to officially endorse NICM, for example, by the inclusion of letters written by HRH The Prince of Wales on the NICM website and in seminal publications.”

The words ‘proven’ and ‘evidence-based’ is somewhat out of place, because both the NICM and Prince Charles continue to promote debunked homeopathy (water as medicine against malaria etc.) and a lot of other crackpot treatments, so, these words are meaningless coming from the NICM.

But there is another type of endorsement that they actively pursue. And that is being endorsed by a respected organisation, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), or in this case, the Australian Research Council (ARC), which manages the ERA scheme (the NICM does have a man on the inside at the WHO, but more about this at a later stage). Under the ERA scheme, universities submit their research outputs and based on this data they receive a ranking out of 5 for a specific field of research. In the NICMs case, they were ranked in the “Complementary and Alternative medicine” field of research in both the 2012 and 2015 rounds, and they are currently submitting data for the 2018 round.  This is what the NICM told Prince Charles;

“We are the only Australian complementary medicine research centre to receive a ranking of 5 in the Commonwealth Excellence in Research for Australia exercise – signalling research well above world standard.”

So, clearly the NICM has been endorsed by the ARC under their ERA scheme, and indeed they did receive the highest ranking of 5, in both the 2012 and 2015 rounds, which they now use to lobby for further recognition and endorsement from celebrities or royalty. They even managed to legitimise traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Australia using this ARC endorsement, and they are currently building a TCM hospital in the heart of Sydney. This is dangerous, because many people will get hurt, or might even die, because of ineffective fake healthcare systems such as TCM. Here is one example, where the NICM was indirectly involved in the death of a 6yo boy.

But there is a problem with the ERA endorsement. Having first-hand knowledge of the promotional research that the NICM conducts, there is no way in this world that they can or should receive a ranking of 5, so, clearly there is a discrepancy somewhere. For example; below is an abstract of one of their ‘scientific’ articles that was reviewed by the ARC, and you’ll be excused if you think that it was written by Gwyneth Paltrow;

This case report describes a 25-year-old woman who presented with nausea and vomiting (NVP) in her seventh week of pregnancy. The treatment was not successful overall and resulted in both patient and practitioner losing confidence. The following reflective questions challenged my practice and led to an examination of what makes acupuncture work. – Why, after a course of acupuncture, did the nausea and vomiting continue? – What led to a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat this ailment? Multiple traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) research reviews show some benefit for nausea and dry retching using acupressure and acupuncture, and limited results for vomiting. Despite this, I found that my confidence was undermined by being out of touch with my own inner knowing or Yi. I needed to encourage the patient (‘Laura’) to take more responsibility for her own health and we both needed clarity around the treatment result expected.

This is not something that you’ll expect from a university in Australia – especially not if they are ranked ‘well above world standard’. The fact that case reports (there is more than one) are ineligible to be submitted as a scientific article is an issue (ERA guidelines section 5.4.8.5 page 41), but I believe the contents of their work is a far bigger problem – it is pure and unadulterated pseudoscience! But this isn’t even the biggest problem. The NICM submitted 89 scientific articles for review in the 2012 round, and 151 articles in the 2015 round. Of the 89 articles, close to 50% was not produced by the NICM and in the 2015 round, close to 25% of articles was produced by other universities. This is not only completely unethical, this, in my view, is fraud. You cannot take the work of others and claim it as your own – just imagine what will happen if you do something like this on your CV! (here is a full list of the NICMs articles – interesting stuff).

But what does the ERA guidelines say about this? Well, to be honest, nothing. I could not find any information in the guidelines, clearly stating that they were allowed to do this. The ARC, and the expert committee members who reviewed the NICMs application, was contacted for clarification, but unfortunately only the ARC responded, and none of the 25 committee members. The answer from the ARC was also somewhat vague;

“Therefore if you review the individual outputs of a specific unit of evaluation within a university they may not all have a publication association listed but could still be within the submission guidelines.”

So, there appears to be an unwritten rule which ‘allowed’ the NICM to submit the work of others as their own – a typical loophole? And what better way to identify these loopholes than to serve on the expert committee reviewing these applications? As expected, the director of the NICM, Alan Bensoussan did indeed serve on the expert committee in 2010, where he, as an expert promotional scientist, identified the loopholes which they exploited in full, during the 2012/2015 rounds. But, this is only true if this is indeed a loophole, otherwise, it is plain and simple fraud! But, to be honest, I could not care less what the ERA guidelines say, it is never okay to take another person’s work! Because what example do you give students, and what about the international universities who have now unwittingly contributed to the legitimisation of dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare systems in Australia?

For example. Leiden University has ‘contributed’ 7 scientific articles towards WSU’s scientific output – obviously without them knowing about it. The authors of these articles worked at Leiden university while being paid by the Dutch taxpayer! And at the time, they were completely unaware even of the existence of the NICM or WSU. But, unfortunately, without them knowing about it, they have now assisted these ‘scientists’ at WSU to promote quackery. I am convinced that Leiden University, and the many other universities who are involved, will not appreciate this.

Although this issue is still unfolding, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered, it just again shows that almost everything that pseudoscientists do, is misleading or false. They will even mislead celebrities or royalty from whom they seek their highly valuable endorsements. And this does not bode well, because the NICM who has extensively used their ERA ranking to lobby the Australian and Chinese governments, has managed to strike a deal with China and, in effect, has legitimised TCM in Australia.

So, if you suspect that this practice is widespread at Australian universities, you can always request the information from the ARC under a Freedom of Information Act (section 6.4, page 69). And if you are an academic considering taking up a job at an Australian university, be careful, because they might just stick you in a dark hole and use your extensive publication record as part of their own scientific outputs – this might be the only reason why the hired you! But let’s hope that this fraud is limited to the NICM, and not a widespread phenomenon.

Much more to come on this issue.